Digital transformation: Weighing the impact on profit and people

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Do me a favour. Open up your preferred means of consuming news – an app, website, podcast, TV or newspaper – and you will find articles around artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, retrenchments, the next Terminator movie, and all things futuristic with facts and sensationalism all mixed together. All of these big, scary buzz words induce fear and excitement at the same time.

But what does it all mean, Basil?

The inescapable business logic is that digitisation drives efficiencies, and with employees pegged as the largest cost item on the balance sheet for most organisations, the loss of jobs is, in most cases, inevitable.

However, if swathes of employees across the developing world lose their jobs due to digitisation, what will the long-term repercussions be in terms of economic impact? And how long will it take for new skills to enter the market?

Consider South Africa, a country with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and also a range of industries, some that have already modernized or been born into this new world with the help of the latest digital tools – Discovery Bank as an example   and others still operating with older processes and systems. Organisations planning transformative technological investments should be focusing on three core responsibilities to guide them to a future that serves all stakeholders: profitability, upskilling, and social impact.

It all boils down to responsible transformation. But is it that straightforward?

In a discussion I had with Dr Paul Taffinder, author of ‘The Leadership Crash Course: Creating Leadership Impact in the Digital World’ he spurred some ideas. Is there the right level of leadership? Are we as business and sectors giving the right level of focus?

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